The Money Saving Skill Set

In a consumer driven society you are basically supposed to have your one specialization that you work at and then you are supposed to buy everything else you need.  Thus while you might be a great ‘insert job title here‘, you are suppose to suck at everything else.  Too often this is exactly what happens and people really don’t have a skill set to address many of the minor repairs or jobs that could significantly reduce your costs.  By having additional skills you can save on a large number of minor things that when compounded can help you retire earlier.

So what skill set should an early retiree have?  Basically there is no limit on what you should have other than as many as you can learn and have an interest in.  In my life I’ve noticed the following skills to be very useful so far:

  1. Cooking.  Now cooking isn’t just a single skill but rather a spectrum of skills where you start at boiling water and work yourself up to inventing supper from the leftovers in your fridge with no recipe.  Perhaps the most useful skill I’ve learned so far in this is the ability to substitute items in a recipe.  From experience (and Google) I’ve learned how to take a recipe as a template and reinvent most of it based on what I have in the house.  So rather than going shopping to make supper I end up using what I already have in the house.  For example, if a recipe calls for buttermilk more often than not you can use sour milk instead (milk with a splash of white vinegar in it).  The pay off of this skill for an average family would likely be reducing your food bill in half.
  2. Clothing Repair.  While I don’t have a sewing machine (I’m not that good yet) I do keep a little basket in the house with needles, thread, pins and other useful items. To date I’ve fixed countless little things that were 98% useable except for one minor rip or fallen off button.  For more complex projects like a new set of curtains or a cover for a bench I get help from friends or family who can do the project for me.  While I can give an exact estimate of savings here, I’m fairly sure I’ve saved over $100 in clothes in the last six months.  Mainly because I’ve got two boys that seem to be fairly skilled at wrecking pants and shirts.
  3. Minor House Repairs.  This is a broad category with lots of sub-skills to it.  Some examples include carpentry, plumbing, electrical, tiling, painting and installing new flooring.  In general I grew up fairly clueless on how to do most of these things, but from various people over the years continue to learn how to do things and skip paying someone else when I have the time to do the project myself.  So know I’m to the point I’ve leveraging my skills to fix other things like broken toys.  I can’t even begin to calculate the thousands of dollars I’ve saved over the years because of these skills.  But over two house I’ve likely saved at least $10,000 in flooring and painting projects alone.

Now there are other skills you can continue to learn depending on your interest and natural skill set.  Other examples of skills include hair cutting, stain removing, deck building, patio installation, auto repair, electronic troubleshooting, computer repair … you get the idea.

If you have a spouse or partner feel free to leverage what the other one is good at to round out your combined skill sets.  For example, when painting I’ve determined my wife should never be allowed to cut in the ceiling, but I’m good at it.  Yet she is great with a roller, while I suck at it.  So we split our paint jobs according to what we do best.

Perhaps the most important skill of all if don’t be afraid to try something out.  For example, if the item in question is already broken and heading for the trash: try to fix it.  Even if you fail, it only cost you a little time and if you make it work again you have saved some money.

12 thoughts on “The Money Saving Skill Set”

  1. Hey, nice post. I’ve been throwing the idea around of writing about a minimum skill set that one needs to survive effectively.

    I totally agree with all of your items — the money saving. If I could think of one more, I might add “shopping skills”. By that I mean finding good values. It might be using kijiji or craigslist, or shopping at certain stores over others, or knowing how to use the online world to get better value. Shopping means spending money, but for necessities there is the opportunity to save.

  2. I think minor auto repair/troubleshooting is a huge money saving skill… not only will you save mony fixing it your self, but it’s the fear of not knowing how to troubleshoot and fix a car that drives a lot of people (through the art of justification) to purchase new, expensive, and highly depreciating verhicles.

  3. I like the last paragraph. If something is broken, do you really have anything to lose by trying to fix it yourself? Are you going to make it more broken?

    A friend had a nice ipod, with lots of storage on it, but was broken. She gave up on it and bought a new one. I googled what was wrong with her ipod, and Google told me to smack it hard against a desk or something hard. It was broken anyway, so I did. I plugged it in, and it worked. I got a $400 (at the time) ipod for $50, since I insisted on giving her something for it.

    I saved $350 on something I was going to buy anyway, just from a 5 minute search on Google. Trying to fix problems yourself can be extremely profitable.

  4. There’s a saying we use when playing around with older cars because younger mechanics lack experience with them: “Why pay someone to screw it up when you can screw it up yourself for free?”

  5. Not much you can do with today’s autos, unless you have the electronic equipment that you need – or the right tools. I consider myself pretty handy, but just to replace the headlight on my Honda, I had to concede (after a reasonable effort) and then take it to my mechanic. Very frustrating, indeed. Even changing the oil can be a challenge now.

  6. How does you iphone fit into saving money? Dont you think its a want that is needed?

  7. @Banjo Steve – easy solution… don’t drive a newer car… older cars are much less expensive to purchase… have less annual depreciation… easier to work on yourself… and if you can’t fix it yourself it’s even less expensive to get serviced…

    “The road to financial freedom is driven in a 20 year old Honda” 🙂

  8. I have done many DIY tasks such as bathroom and kitchen tiling, and replacing two light switches and a closet ceiling pull-chain light as well as another ceiling light. And I did not fry myself.

    The car stuff you have to be careful with, however. While I have replaced the car battery a few times, the last time my hand slipped and ended up shorting out most of the electrical system, costing me a chunk of money. I also suffered a minor burn on my finger. No more of those types of repairs for me.

    I cook most of my meals for myself, and having a ladyfriend who likes to cook for me is helpful, too. I help her with other household tasks she cannot do although she is pretty handy with the DIY stuff. I prepare her tax returns, too.

    My retired dad does a lot of woodworking, so with his basement full of heavy equipment he has been helpful with small furniture repairs and making small stuff for me.

    Everyone doing what they do best works out well for all involved.

  9. So true – we have saved thousands and thousands of dollars over the years because of being able to do our own vehicle maintenance, home repair, sewing and cooking. Right now I only do small hand repair sewing jobs, but I’d love to learn to use a machine so I can hem pants (my biggest sewing expense because I’m so short).

  10. Although it can be a lot of work you can save a lot of money by planting your own garden. Other bonuses it that the vegetables will be pesticide free and very fresh.

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